Chapter 5 (Page 49)

Prehistoric Construction of Mothering

Kathleen M. Bolen
University of California, Berkeley


   Motherhood integrates bio-procreational and social processes; it includes notions of sexuality, reproduction, personhood, child care, social order, domestic organization and power. Motherhood has often placed the abstract woman on a pedestal, as the only "known" parent is the mother (Gough 1975:55). In our society, childbearing and child care hinders participation within wider society; we too easily project similar notions onto our prehistoric constructs. Problematizing mothering allows for a consideration of the ways gender may operate within a prehistoric context.
   Cross cultural and ethnographic research demonstrate tremendous variety in what mothers do, what it means to be a mother, what expectations are placed upon mothers, what maternal behavior entails, and who actually mothers. This paper suggests such potential variability in prehistory by emphasizing the cultural construction of motherhood. If woman-as-mother best describes prehistoric social strategies, then critical consideration of what these mothers do forces serious reorientation in our understanding of the resulting divisions of labor and social organization. Alternatively, if prehistory provides situations of less or differently gendered visions of society, ethnography and research on modern mothering suggest potentially diverse ways of organizing society to fulfill the requirements of infants and children.
   The literature on mothering derives from a variety of disciplines. By pulling many writings together I hope to provide an understanding of our construction of motherhood and discuss alternatives for evaluation of such an institution in prehistoric contexts. Psychobiology, psychology, primatology, sociobiology, behavioral studies, and biosocial approaches all attempt to scientize mothering. Feminist influence in the literature has focused on validating mothering for women, recognizing Mothering as a crucial issue for women (and men). My superficial treatment of these contributions to the mothering literature does not highlight any deterministic influences, as "there is no single, undisputed claim about universal human behavior (sexual or otherwise) " (Fausto-Sterling 1985:199). Rather, I present plausibility arguments which focus on various aspects of people and the way they have been understood.
   For conceptual clarity, two aspects of motherhood are often distinguished: biological mothering (the birth relation) and social mothering, although such divisions or categories must remain fluid and permeable, as we are not "stratified into a biological base and a cultural superstructure" (Errington 1990:14). There is a relevant undeniable biological "fact" in that females give birth. This reality contrasts with the changing ambiguity of parenting within ethnographic contexts and the growing acceptance of the cultural construction of "biologically" based explanations. The conceptual distinction between mothering labor and birthing labor is important. Birthing labor, which isbiological and culminates in giving birth, is

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undeniably female and remains universally in the realm of women (Ruddick 1989:50). Raising, feeding, protecting, and caring for children commonly defines the activities of motherhood, and occur under a variety of conditions. Socially, all women are potentially mothers, yet often overlooked is the fact that these social functions are not limited to women (Reed 1975:13), or even specific age groups. Throughout this paper, I entertain the idea that these aspects of mothering can be fulfilled by different individuals or groups of individuals.
   The concept and practice of Motherhood is by definition gendered - women, through biology, mother (Chodorow 1978; Collier and Rosaldo 1981; DeBeauvoir 1952; Miles 1989; Rich 1976) - but my focus does not attempt to impose this contemporary phenomena on prehistory. Rather, considering the extent to which mothering is part of the past requires serious attention to mothers, fathers, children, and elders in society. It requires approaching the social system as a whole.
   Much of the literature on mothering does assume (or promote) a universal model of the woman/mother. The universal Woman possesses a universal distinguishing feature - the capacity to Mother. As humans are social beings, and infants are not self sufficient (Reed 1984; Lancaster 1985), the most essential task of this Mother is bearing and raising children. As with any universally applied concept, the Mother concept creates analytical problems through reliance on a transhistorical, universal, sexual division of labor. The extent to which generalizations can be accepted and the need for explicitness of context raise crucial problems to be resolved in the mothering literature. Once mother becomes an issue and not just a factor, and the specific contexts in which mothering activity takes place have been defined, discussions of mothering activity most often revolve around discussion of women. In contrast to this genderization of mothering we may need to "de-gender" mothering, in light of the consideration of mothering as not solely reliant on the definition of woman-as-biology.
   In this assimilation stage, I deal with theoretical considerations of prehistoric motherhood. As theory is often a self-fulfilling prophecy, it orders experience into the frameworks it provides (Hubbard 1983:46) thus opening up future interpretation. Heavily informed by feminist theory, I attempt to deconstruct Mother at its most basic level - biology-reproduction-woman-mother - and offer some alternative constructions. By looking beyond the confines of our gender conceptions to the social relations operating within prehistoric societies, this paper seeks a framework for understanding the social construction of gender, through Mother. Such questioning forces consideration of alternative scenarios for how prehistoric adults organized around children. I argue that much of mothering activity cross cuts gender - and does not require a bipolar gender construction of woman-as-mother. There is no one prehistoric type of mother. In conclusion I will consider ways to envision prehistoric mothers.

Why prehistory?

   Often those working in historic periods and with ethnographic continuity claim greater access to 'knowledge' and profess more accurate descriptions or depictions of the past (Watson and Gould 1982). Models for constructing the past strengthen and collapse in relation to the specific "evidence" being applied. Those working in "far-back prehistory" simply do not have the evidence to say much about people or social relations, some would argue. Yet prehistorians do have material remains, and thus the archaeological tools for reading the past. Prehistory potentially holds more flexible models for the past than simply transplanting modern gatherer-hunters or nuclear families.
   Despite difficulties derived from an unwillingness to expand the boundaries of our knowledge, understanding the past remains essential to understanding and surviving the present. The patriarchal society we operate within shapes our knowledge and consideration about women and mothers; simultaneously, archaeology is shaped by sociopolitical concerns (Leone 1982). The combination of these influences while constructing the past creates a reproductive path for prehistoric women which correctly mirrors contemporary society and its ideologies. "We legitimize the division and inequalities in our own society by making them the inevitable outcome of inevitable forces" in the past (Bender 1986:5). Women today are believed to be unequal, weaker, biologically inferior and evolutionary unimportant; under patriarchal, androcentric, and traditional archaeological frameworks, this ideology creates similar women in the past. Aspects of the past re-defined in relation to the present are pushed back in time, naturalized, and thereby given continuity (Conkey 1991).
   Archaeology is a powerful method for constructing prehistory; prehistory exists as creative tensions between world views - those of the present and those of the past (as viewed through the present). The strongest determinant for "knowledge" of prehistory is contemporary influences, from funding source, to audience, to explicit and implicit agendas underlying research. Prehistory is a period in time created to serve our interests - the prehistoric 'Other' lives in a

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different time and place, accessible through archaeology, paleontology, and analogy and homology to other primates and ethnographic examples. Many disciplines discuss prehistoric peoples to a variety of ends, yet only archaeology is concerned with the material dimensions of society and is responsive to the material parameters.
   Archaeologists attempt to display the cultural diversity of prehistoric people and develop "culture" chronologies. Often though, this diversity appears in lithic assemblages, ceramic production technique, or resource procurement strategy. The people of these archaeological cultures become mono- groups, not individualistic and variable assemblages of people. The common acceptance of static groups rather than critically constructed people escalates the problem of considering active prehistoric people. If there is no homogeneous "prehistoric people", then there can be no one prehistoric mother but negotiated, different "mothers".
   At this point, archaeology informs us about mothers mainly as reproductive units, and it and other disciplines then import these biologically adaptive mothers into the past to validate models of evolution and development. Yet we know from cross cultural, ethnographic, and historic contexts that the institution of motherhood entails more than strict biological reproduction, which may or may not describe how things were in the past. What mothering involves then, must be addressed next, prior to a consideration of mothering within archaeological contexts.

Addressing mothering: Myths and Construction of Alternatives

   The relative lack of focus on mothering is unsurprising, given the contemporary devaluation of mothers in Western society, nonrecognition of children as individuals, and societal subordination of women. In popularizing the 'universal' experience of (white, middle class) mothers, many feminists (Chodorow 1978; Gilligan 1982; Rich 1976; Ruddick 1989, among others) argue from a specific western historic tradition, but suggest that motherhood is natural and has historic and prehistoric antecedents. Within the feminist literature many writers also do not question biodeterminist notions (for example, DeBeauvoir 1952; French 1985; Lerner 1986; Rich 1976). Use of a generalized notion of prehistory, and discovery of a "lost primitive egalitarianism" (Collier and Rosaldo 1981:277) becomes not only a basis for construction of a glorious past (Miles 1989; Stone 1976) but then becomes an ideal for the future (Eisler 1987; Gadon 1990).
   In many ways, research on the past selectively seeks "evidence "to maintain the dominant view of what our early social relations were or alternatively provides oppositional views which offer a "certain psychological and political sense of well being" (Fausto-Sterling 1985:175). Feminist approaches in anthropology and archaeology have begun to deconstruct biased literature and the concept of the universal woman.Yet clearly such work has not been integrated throughout disciplines. Archaeologists, as writers of prehistoric knowledge and narrative, must address this manifestation of the present in the past to provide more plausible models for the past. Although relativism and pluralism have been critiqued as ultimately paralyzing, research must operate within a growing holistic approach to reality and the past.
   Women's capacity to have children, or men's inability to "have children", distinguishes them from each other. Our persisting distinctions in gender categories depend on reproductive technologies. This conflation of female identity with reproduction and female sexual biology "mimics a similarly narrow view of the contemporary female" (Campbell 1991:2).Yet, as Collier and Rosaldo have argued, themes of motherhood and sexual reproduction hold various degrees of centrality to conceptions of women (Collier and Rosaldo 1981:275-6). Reluctance within our society to allow women reproductive rights reflects the prevailing woman-as-reproducer model, which is assumed for the past as well. As Conkey and Williams have argued for origins research, the present is invoked in research of the past (see also Leone 1982); this past is used to explain (and I would argue, justify) the present (Conkey and Williams 1991:19).
   Archaeology practices a "'masculinist construction of the world', in which females are assumed to exist primarily for the use of males, sexually or reproductively" (Nelson 1990:16) or for labor.The division of labor within early groups has been conceived of as a sexual one, based on the limitations of women for full participation in sustaining activities and defining women's activity based on a constraining model of motherhood. "Because of natural or normal involvement with pregnancy, nursing and or care of the young, [women] were inclined and ultimately required to refrain from certain subsistence activities .." (Leibowitz 1986:47). According to such views, demands on childcare limit compatibility of tasks for women and determine the sexual division of labor; responsibility in childcare must be reduced or economic activity must be such that it is concurrent with childcare (Brown 1970:1075). The "ability to give birth has been transformed into a liability ..." (Leacock 1972:35). Rather than constructing divisions of labor

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or activities as forming around child care (Burton et al. 1977), women were viewed conjoined to other activities for reproductive success. This assumes a unquestioned biologically based motherhood and sees a sexual division of labor as natural with women tied to children and "housebound" (Bender 1986:3). Yet women do not operate within a "set of natural given tasks common to all societies at all times; nor can it be assumed that all women perform these tasks" (Moore 1988:53). In the "denigration of domesticity" (Strathern 1984:30) that prevails today, mothering is not considered an official "job" and "being at home" is not an acceptable occupation, attitudes which influence presentation of a prehistoric division of labor.
   Woman-the-gatherer may be an gynocentric inversion of the androcentric model, but a serious consideration of the divisions of labor and gender relations moves away from simple unquestioned acceptance of biased stereotypes. Evolutionary-based approaches propose innovations and inventions by women in prehistoric society and indicate the selective and active role of females in their reproduction (Fedigan 1986; Tanner and Zihlman 1976; Zihlman 1978, 1981). One of the valuable lessons learned through considerations of woman-the-gatherer (Dahlberg 1981; Slocum 1975) was that earlier notions of prehistoric subsistence revolving around big game had to be revised. However, a fundamental flaw in the evolutionary/woman as gatherer models is its acceptance of present day notions of childrearing for prehistoric contexts, although none of our divisions or obligations are written into nature (Bender 1986:3). Although our understanding of hunting has changed, the male terminology and emphasis persists.
   Slocum claims that the mother-child bond is the major enduring bond in gatherer society (Slocum 1975:43). Lerner (1986) also considers the mother-child dyad the most basic one throughout history. The prolonged infancy, immaturity and helplessness of the child necessitates the assistance of others for survival. The long childhood and maternal care produces a close relationship between mother (or care provider) and child (Gough 1975:55). The need to organize for feeding and socializing the child after weaning involves complex social and emotional bonds and relationships. Much of the modification through learning and cultural molding considered essential to survival depends upon 'maternal' care yet contrary to the dyad argument does not require woman mothers. The formation of a child-adult bond, the differentiation from self, the struggle for autonomy, and the awareness of 'other' that occurs during early child development can flourish with fathers, siblings, or other adults in place.
   Our understanding of early societies often incorporates a view of Mother within the Family. We see early societies as bands or tribes, and construct our models of their existence on loosely based, heterosexual relations which organize around continuation of the species. To free women from their biology threatens both the social unit of organization, if it is based in biological reproduction, and the subjection of women to their biological destiny (Motherhood and the Family) (Reed 1984:139). Our ideas of mothers are products of history, in which we recognize the producer:offspring relationship in nuclear family terms. Yet the family is a historical development rooted in a so called natural necessity (O'Brien 1981) which privileges the biologically rooted mother-infant bond. Thus the biological nuclear family requires antecedents in prehistory; it must be the 'natural' (therefore unchangeable) way. However, a variety of sources indicate that family formation varies significantly; monogamy, polygamy, single parenthood, faculative polyandry (Lancaster 1988:5). It is within these specific social configurations, that biology, psychology, and other forces articulate with the people of these contexts.
   Human reproduction does require pregnancy, however, the extent of physical "limitation" (if any) this imposes can vary, and some pregnancies do not reach full term. Ethnographic data (in gathering-hunting societies and predictions for Pleistocene populations) suggest that the actual birth rate for babies demonstrates high infant mortality, and a high percentage of babies die before they reach one year of age; estimated prehistoric child mortality averages 50% (Deevey 1968; Hassan 1975; Konner 1976; Lancaster 1985:12). Furthermore, and often ignored in prehistory, cultural factors act on child mortality: control and regulation of childbirth, affects of living conditions, nutrition, healthcare, disease, accidents, neglect (Lillehammer 1989:100). Clearly such considerations factor into the composition of the female mothering population. Not all women in society are under the "physiological confinements" of eternal mothering; not all women constantly (or ever) produce children. There are periods within a sexually reproductive female's life span when she does not fall victim to the 'limitations' of biology; some women may be infertile, post menopausal, or otherwise chose not to reproduce.
   The most significant biological "reality" of females beyond birth is the demand for lactation of dependent young. Yet, the practice of lactation shows variability at many levels - frequency, length of time, multiple feeders of children, non-biological mothers feeding, or alternative food sources. Lactation assures the maintenance of proximity between mother and newborn

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(Rossi 1985:176) yet infants do not demand strictly their biological mother, they just need to be fed which may shift the location of this relationship. Composition of prehistoric groups often relies on "required" mother-infant lactation as "natural" birth spacing. Cavalli-Sforza (1983:60) points to evidence that after one and one half or less years of lactation, menstruation will begin again, which contrasts with common assertions of birth spacing every three to four years when nursing. Lancaster (1988:61) claims that a return to menstruation does not equate or necessarily imply a return to ovulation, which is the crucial requirement for reproduction. And, as ethnographic examples indicate, women can also "lose" the ability to breast feed (Scheper-Hughes 1992) or otherwise practice no lactation, yet their baby survives. In such cases, however, the "natural", universal, essential mother-child bond is threatened. Thus, arguments for birth spacing and lactation must be questioned, as patterns can be less "biologically" determined.
   The origin of attachment, often considered critical to infant development in psychology, has been attributed to predatory selection pressures (Bowlby 1969), presumably deriving from early prehistory.The desired quality of physical intimacy/closeness in psychological theorizing does not require a specific, biological mother. However, social influences can be shown to be more important than behaviorist stimulus (Haraway 1989) as Harlow demonstrated with desirable quality-enhanced inanimate figures. Harlow's experiments in primate attachment have demonstrated a multi-attachment system (as cited in (McKinney 1985:246)) rather than assumed monotrophy (Tronick et al. 1985:294); infant to non-mother bonds work equally well in fulfilling both nutritional and social aspects of infant development.
   In addition to underlying assumptions that children do survive, discussions of historic, ethnographic, and prehistoric people implicitly enforce our definition of the child as an individual from birth (or conception, dependent upon stance). Ethnographic data indicate a variety of cultural recognitions of an individual; postponed naming, baptism, and other treatments of babies indicate varying degrees of defining when an offspring becomes an individual/person (Morgan 1989; Scheper-Hughes 1992). Infanticide, "passive" neglect, indifference, and killing of infants have been cultural responses to specific environmental, social, and economic conditions and stress. Depending upon cultural context, such actions do not negate the ideals of mothering or maternal care; this cultural response reflects an alternative conception of death rather than bad mothering, and mothers are not responsible for such "tragedy". "Infanticide, then, with all the moral repugnance it evokes in the West, is a cultural construction rather then a universal moral edict" (Morgan 1989:98).

Material Culture of Mothering

   Having explored the cultural construction of mothering activity, I turn to a brief consideration of archaeological contexts. We "know" there were female and males and children in prehistory because we are a sexually reproducing species, yet we emphasize our "knowledge" of women and men in accordance with the prevailing bipolar conception of gender and models of adaptive success which require heterosexuality. Our knowledge of contemporary women and men peoples prehistory and clearly improves on accounts of prehistoric Man although there still remain few alternatives to our bipolar gender categories.
   In their refusal to accept that reproduction is an arena of active social relations, not just a biological phenomena, prehistorians in general assume woman-as-mother, a result of the reproductive process. The traditional Man-the-Hunter and woman-the-gatherer models of prehistoric people can be extended to woman-as-mother and man-as-toolmaker; not only do women not make (formal) tools (but see Gero, 1991), but they do make babies (Al-Hibri 1981). Yet women are not active agents in these prehistoric contexts, despite their primary role as re-producers (Conkey and Williams 1991:20). In fact, it is men who (re)produce Cultural Man and the dominant paradigm through the object of women. Cultural Man evolves with his subservient, child producing "wife". Not only does the woman-at-home ideology characterize archaeology (Gero 1985), but in prehistoric contexts, woman-at-home is woman-as-mother.
   A necessary precursor to looking archaeologically for social relations as evident in mothering activity must be engendering archaeology. Feminist archaeologists suggest and demonstrate the importance of considering how and in what contexts women were active participants in society; various lines of evidence have been engendered, setting the precedent for further delving into the social relations of prehistoric contexts (especially articles in Gero and Conkey 1991). In both biological and social manifestations, motherhood requires more than passive women in prehistory.
Like gender, we can not "find" motherhood as we "find" lithic debris or ceramic sherds. The lack of direct identification of artifacts which cry out "I am evidence of mothering" like a projectile point supposedly indicates hunting activity is indicative of the responsibility of archaeologists to deal with the "less visible" aspects of the archaeological record. What kind of evidence does 'mothering' leave archaeologically? How can we

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"find it" empirically? For a start I return to defining what 'it' is. Separating the activity of mothering, which may be configured in different ways, from the biological role, clarifies the understanding of what one is looking for. A mother, as biological relation, can potentially be indicated through analysis of skeletal remains. Birth results in morphological indications on the pelvis; yet retrieval of such physical evidence of birthing is rare and we can not expect or rely on associated, well-preserved cemeteries for all archaeological research. Material and skeletal evidence of children, and the continuing presence of people through time proves that some women actually produced children and these children were sufficiently raised and survived.
   Mothers may feed infants, but breast feeding leaves no known material evidence and preparation of alternative baby foods falls within the general archaeological realm of food production or subsistence activities. Chemical analyses of skeletal remains can indicate food (especially meat vs. plant) differences, and subsistence evidence suggests dietary patterns (Price 1988). Archaeologists potentially can differentiate beyond female and male dietary patterns to explore food systems and social relations (Hastorf 1991).
   Women carry their infants (burdening), keeping them in close contact. An innovation, such as a strap or sling to facilitate transport of the infant, would not likely preserve, and such mention appears infrequently in archaeological literature (see Reed 1975; Slocum 1975; Zihlman 1978). Baskets made to hold or encage children likewise would not leave archaeological traces. By overlooking or ignoring the potentials of such less archaeologically visible evidence, the infant always on the mother's hip continues to burden prehistoric women.
   Social mothering blends together some research on kinship, gender, and social organization. Mothers are claimed to be primary socializing agents, yet archaeologists struggle with "seeing" social interaction as directly reflected in material culture. Some of the social and symbolic communication preserved within the archaeological record may have operated within the social mother's realm. Such culturally motivated aspects of society require informed interpretation from archaeological materials, a shift to considering the active people behind the appearance of exotic materials, technology, artifacts, architecture, food, and refuse, and forces consideration of the social relations within which all this occurs. Thus we have access to aspects of socialization which may describe mothering activity.
   In a rare critical consideration of mothers in prehistory, Rice (1981) suggests that the European "Venus figurines" represent women through their life cycle. If such analysis can be taken as suggestive of prehistoric social make up, a model of group composition and the place of mothers can be projected having four reproduction-related age groups: pre-reproduction, reproductive and pregnant, reproductive and not pregnant, post reproductive. Only a minority of a given population actually produces infants at a given time, yet other individuals within the society can contribute to social mothering.
   Little material culture evidence seems to "get at" prehistoric mothers directly. Do we discard this discussion as too problematic, intangible, and ultimately non-informative or not "provable"? Archaeologists do, to various extents, recognize the accessibility of gender, and no technological breakthrough, highly significant find, or even hoards of skeletal material have stimulated this. Repeatedly, feminist archaeology and archaeologies of gender have stressed the changing methodological/theoretical focus that will allow for us to understand gender in the past. The emergence of social archaeology, contextual approaches, and interpretive archaeology (Hodder 1991) has been an integral part of this trend. What is visible to archaeology is constructed through the research strategy, data recovery, and interpretation. Therefore, openness to alternative interpretations expands the archaeological record and allows for understanding prehistoric people.

Discussion: Archaeology & Implications

   Many of the myths of motherhood raised here need closer examination yet my brief overview serves as a trampoline for constructing a broader theoretical framework. As can be demonstrated in a wide ethnographic sample, there are alternatives to the biological mother as primary care giver. Children born of biological mothers dying in childbirth would require alternative caretakers and food providers. Failure to carry to full term or early loss of infants provides baby-free women, who are not "burdened" by infants and could participate in nursing and other caring activities. If the breast food link can be severed and the feeding of the infant accomplished another way, the possibilities for who provides primary care open up. Ethnographic cases of gatherer-hunters demonstrate children in charge of infants and children, yet the Mother, who plays no active role, periodically "supervises", and maintains the (non-practiced) role (Draper 1976; LeVine 1974; Shostak 1976). Even if the biological mother nurses the baby, this does not require a full time commitment to a mother-baby pair. The model of indulgence (LeVine 1974) and constant

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feeding does not necessarily hold for prehistory. Placing women in domestic contexts, and depositing children with them, limits our understanding of archaeological sites, and neglects the awareness that any mother-child dyad, created by proximity or lactation, is ultimately enmeshed within the social group (Rossi 1985:176). Constraints on activity and divisions of labor change if one can feed sporadically and leave the baby with others in between.
   During early prehistory, evolutionists would have us believe that life was a struggle, which only the fittest survive. It would follow then that those creating and enabling this survival are irreplaceable. For survival and perpetuation of the species, reproductive and caretaking work would be critical. If women do fulfill such essential societal roles, the responsibility for perpetuation of the species through role as mother is central to social organization. Men's traditionally accepted role - that of hunter - results not from physical strength or innate aggressiveness but as a supplementary role to mothering activity. Hunting takes men off in rounds, removed from the "essential" tasks of childcare/feeding, indicating either (social) inadequacy or social prescriptions to perform these tasks or the potential of the community to survive and defend itself with this peripheral male participation.

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   Deconstructing Mother allows for construction of Father, beyond simple images of an expendable hunter out on raids; childcare becomes an area for men's activity. "Men and women must have done other things with their tine besides hunting and gathering" (Ingold 1987:79), and mothering and fathering activities add to a fuller understanding of prehistoric social organization. Bowlby's (1969) classic work on attachment suggests that the patterns of attachment shown with men (as fathers) resembled that of women (as mothers). Such correlation in behavior patterns reinforces the interchangeability of woman mothers and men fathers as care givers (Klaus and Kennell 1983) and broadens potential conceptions of social interaction.
   The question of choice and desire, as well as value of role, infrequently enters into discussions of early prehistoric people. But clearly consideration of people (especially women) as active decision makers changes the conceptualization of persons-as-pawn within equilibrium. If women can be freed from a strict mothering role, the prehistoric division of labor depends less on gender limitations. Thus, we can see the hunting=male model for the idealized notion that it is. The definition of the past, through our periodization and construction of prehistory, is undoubtedly male-oriented. However, deconstruction of our notion of woman and mothering helps us reconceptualize prehistoric divisions of labor and leads to the possibility of transforming social relations in the past and freeing them from the idealized present.
   The next progression in this analysis is consideration of childhood, which is equally culturally constructed. The validity and necessity of covering childhood has been noted (Lillehammer 1989) and explored in anthropology (Mead 1959, 1970; Whiting 1963) and social history (Aries 1962; deMause 1974; Erikson 1963). Inclusion of active people within social theory oriented studies leads to addressing the context of the transference of culture and tradition - from one generation to another. This transference occurs through existing social configurations; adult to adult, children to adults, between children. Technology, symbolism, ideology, production, subsistence strategies, and hunting all pass through and articulate within socialization and interrelations. Archaeologists do study these issues as expressed in material culture yet are only now considering the social embeddedness and broader orientations of technological production (Dobres 1991a). Focusing on the divisions of labor in productive activities and critically considering daily social interaction can not proceed without a broadened understanding of prehistory. Thus, the transformation of unsocialized infants to socially recognized person provides the ideal context for the ideas of culture, tradition, and culture change which archaeologists attempt to present.
   Bachofen's (1861:xvii) argument for matriarchy relies on the "simple fact" that babies survive only because of maternal care and thus posits that the relation at the origin of all culture is that between Mother and child. Such a belief essentially condemns mothers to a life oriented around motherhood, yet also suggests a primary role for women in society. In questioning this role as the dominant model for society and in challenging and freeing women from the burdens of motherhood, I wish to keep both options as viable, to be considered against the material parameters of culture to which archaeologists have access. The division of labor, relations of production, family, and household are important elements in construction of the past but unquestioned reliance on the "most basic relation", woman-as-mother, will only continue to perpetuate our cultural constructions within the past rather than critically evaluate what archaeological knowledge can add to understanding these relations.
   This paper has focused on whether woman-as-mother can be applied universally to prehistory, as often assumed. By considering some of the relevant discussion of infant development, I do not deny the significance of parental-infant, parental-child relations, but I attempt to broaden our visions for unknown (and different) prehistoric contexts and the potential ways people - men, women, and however else gender may have been socially organized - cared for children. Seriously rethinking models for the diversity of social relations, by questioning what mothering as social activity entails, and who might fulfill these tasks, provides insight into alternative but plausible readings of the archaeological record, as meaning and organization must be understood within the complex social whole (Collier and Rosaldo 1981:315).


   This paper was stimulated by my participation in a seminar on the Cultural Construction of Motherhood,

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taught by Nancy Scheper-Hughes, which forced me to deal with the inadequate treatment of mothers in prehistory. Ongoing discussion and support from Marcia Anne-Dobres has been invaluable. Meg Conkey provided encouragement and advice, which is much appreciated. Special thanks to Meg Conkey, Marcia-Anne Dobres and Amy Grey who all took the time to read an early draft and offered comments which helped refine my arguments.


1. I do not assume that mothers exist in prehistory, as we can not necessarily find currently known phenomena in the past.
2. We differentiate biological, step, and adoptive mothers to clearly define the degree of the mothering relation. In our society we commonly accept that an adoptive mother is not the "real" mother, and that one who bears a child and subsequently gives it up for adoption is not a "mother" at all, yet we refuse to be open to such activities in the past (although by Ruddick's reasoning all mothers are adoptive (Ruddick 1989:51). References to "substitute care" implies that a substitute fills in for a normal, real, expected role, under temporary, less than optimally desired conditions. Common usage of such a notion fails to recognize the substituter as a viable alternative to our preconceived expectations. Consequently, women who work, with children under substitute care, remain the mothers of these children, unreflective of who actually performs the tasks of mothering.
3 Archaeologists "define a culture as an assemblage of associated traits that recur repeatedly" (Childe 1951:30).
4. Work by feminists-of-color (especially Lourde 1984; Moraga and Anzaldúa 1983, Spretnak 1982) has provided alternatives to this focus; interestingly often less dependent upon validation through the (white, androcentric, eurocentric) past - as Lorde notes, "assimilation within a solely western-european herstory is not acceptable".
5. Mothering in the historical past has taken different forms and fulfilled different ideologies. The values of mothering are context dependent, not universal or timeless. Social historians recognize that motherhood (as we know it) was invented in the late 18th century (Badinter 1981; Londa Schienbizer, personal communication, 1990); and Good Mothering is an invention of modernization (Shorter 1975). Historically Aries (1962) argues that maternal indifference characterizes traditional society and Badinter (1981) describes this "maternal indifference" in eighteenth century France.
6. Ethnographic examples raise cases of women hunters (Estioko-Griffin and Griffin 1981; Goodman et al. 1985) and within "hunting" societies the contribution of hunted meat to subsistence is less crucial than plant foods (Lee and DeVore 1968).
7. The complex relation between Motherhood and divisions of labor has been addressed yet needs to be further explored (Mukhopadhyay and Higgins 1988). Leibowitz proposes that sharing between mother and infant leads to exchange of food and later social patterns of food use (1986). The scope of gathering arguably results from this bond; female's gathering, carrying, and sharing foods with the young forms from the logical extension of an intense mother-infant bond (Slocum 1975). Zihlman (1978, 1981) argues further that women's gathering role may invoke the foundations for hunting.
8. Wealthy eighteenth century women shipped infants off to be raised by wet nurses, as the birth mother was not desirable for this task (Badinter 1981; Shorter 1975). Baby formula represents the twentieth century manifestation of alternative feeding.
9. Liebowitz (1986:69) suggests that large proportions of early foraging populations exhibited lesser physical differences in preadult females and males; adulthood only appears after sex maturation. Such insight must force us to reconsider gender within such groups; social differentiation may be through age (adult, preadult, transitional) but only adults are women and men.
10. Rice deals with the "Venus" figurines in an innovative way, and moves beyond simple interpretation of fertility or Goddess figurines. Yet further caution must be taken in applying biological judgements (as to reproductive status) as well as conceptions of sexuality (and gender) to figurines exhibiting tremendous variability and time depth (Dobres 1991b; Nelson 1990).
11. Haraway (1989) claims the American male is physically endowed with all the really essential equipment to compete with the American female on equal terms in the essential activity of rearing infants. Yet Americans are unwilling to accept such a construction in the past or present.

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